In this article we will explore the changes in recent years that the UK’s various emergency services have implemented that aim to improve accessibility and increased safety, security, health and wellbeing for persons with disabilities.

Fire and Rescue Services

Home Fire Safety Checks and Audits

The most recent published Prevention and Protection figures from the Home Office, which cover from April 2019 to March 2020, include statistics on Home Fire Safety Checks and Fire Safety Audits. In ‘19/’20, Fire and Rescue Services carried out 581,917 Home Fire Safety Checks, including 489,922 for those who are disabled or aged 65 and over. This is testament to the focus Fire and Rescue Services have placed on targeted interventions and offering key advice to those who are most at risk from fire article.

This is one element of the Fire and Rescue Services’ prevention work specifically designed to manage community risk as part of individual Integrated Risk Management Planning and very much aimed at adopting a person-centred approach towards identifying and addressing the underlying cause of fire.

NFCC and CQC Joint Working 

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) have recently (March 2021) published a new Memorandum of Understanding agreement for improved joint working, which sets out how they will work together to safeguard the wellbeing of people receiving health and social care in England.

This new agreement provides an opportunity for the UK Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), the NFCC, CQC, and care providers to reduce the risks of fire to people using these services and reduce the significant number of avoidable deaths and injuries.

An increasing proportion of the population is now over 65 years of age. A significant portion of that demographic is currently living in various forms of care homes, sheltered housing, extra care, supported and specialised housing.

These people are more likely to be vulnerable to injury or death if there is a fire – whether because they are more likely to contribute to the likelihood of a fire, they have reduced capacity to respond, or because they have limited health/mobility. Poor understanding of these issues and an unmet need for proper assessment of fire risks means that additional fire protection measures may be overlooked. This can lead to more avoidable deaths and injuries.

CQC, NFCC and FRS will collaborate by pursuing three objectives that will support and improve fire protection for vulnerable people who receive health and social care services. We will:

  • implement local planning and liaison

  • work together to regulate, advise and inform health and social care service providers

  • maintain effective communication.

Police & Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

Constabularies across the UK have been working to improve inclusion and accessibility for persons with disabilities over the last decade, with many forces creating Disability Support Groups to listen to disabled communities and implement positive change as well as improving employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. A particular focus in recent years has been improvements to how persons with disabilities are supported to facilitate the gathering and giving of evidence within the justice system.

While some disabilities are obvious, some are hidden. Witnesses may also have a combination of disabilities. They may not wish to disclose the fact that they have a disability during initial and subsequent needs assessments. Further prosecutors should be aware that the need for special measures may vary significantly from one individual to another, for example different witnesses on the autistic spectrum may have very different needs from each other.

Many witnesses experience stress and fear during the investigation of a crime and when attending court and giving evidence. Stress can affect the quantity and quality of communication with, and by, witnesses of all ages. Some witnesses may have particular difficulties attending court and giving evidence due to their age, personal circumstances, fear of intimidation or because of their particular needs. In such circumstances, where witnesses are considered to be vulnerable or intimidated, “special measures” can improve the quality of their experience by helping them to give their “best evidence”.

The CPS understands the social model of disability to mean that the prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion experienced by many disabled people is not the inevitable result of their impairments or medical conditions, but rather stems from specific barriers they experience on a daily basis. These barriers can be environmental (inaccessible buildings and services), attitudinal (stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination), and organisational (inflexible policies, practices and procedures).

Using the social model helps the CPS to dismantle or reduce the effects of those barriers and improve the safety and security of disabled people.

Reporting a crime, giving a statement and being called to give evidence in court can be very daunting experiences for anyone. Prosecutors should recognise that disabled people can experience specific barriers in this regard. These can include a failure by criminal justice agencies to identify an incident as a potential disability hate crime, inaccessible courtrooms, witness waiting areas or an absence of sign language interpreters.

Prosecutors must avoid incorrect judgments being made about disabled people’s reliability or credibility as a witness giving evidence in court. Such judgments may lead to an incorrect charging decision or could undermine the potential success of a prosecution.

Prosecutors will therefore:

  • Not make assumptions about a disabled victim’s reliability or credibility, and challenge others who do so;

  • Ensure that disabled people are aware of the support that is available to them to give their best evidence;

  • Be more likely to prosecute cases where disability is a factor, including disability hate crimes where there is sufficient evidence to do so;

  • Be mindful that language is important and only use the term ‘vulnerable’ in relation to disabled people when it is appropriate in the context of the law and facts of the case; and

Recognise that the stereotype based belief that a disabled person is ‘vulnerable’ forms the backdrop of disability hate crime and crimes against disabled people and can even be a motivating factor in crimes committed against them.

Ambulance Services

The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) oversees a broad range of national workstreams; Each workstream is overseen by a Chief Executive, who maintains a watching brief over the national group and associated sub-groups.

The National Ambulance Diversity Forum is responsible for providing strategic leadership in relation to equality, diversity and human rights to English ambulance services.

The Diversity Forum has five key areas of focus, namely;

  1. Create resources to develop culturally competent diverse workforce

  2. Ensure fair, compliant procurement, tendering and commissioning processes

  3. Consistency of national patient data reporting and monitoring through use of Diversity Monitoring Toolkit

  4. Effective community engagement models for ambulance services

  5. National Conferences: sharing good practice and forum development plan

In addition to the Diversity Forum, and whilst there are significant challenges facing the sector, NHS trusts have identified a number of opportunities to deliver change. The NHS has committed to prioritising the improvement of the care and support for people with a learning disability and autistic people over the next decade, and there is renewed momentum behind the ambition to fundamentally tackle health inequalities for these groups of individuals following the UK’s experience of responding to COVID-19 so far.

One such example is NHS Education for Scotland, who have developed a range of resources for health professionals dealing with mental health, learning disabilities and dementia. They can be found here.

Find out more

At NPS, accessibility matters to us and we’re always looking at ways to improve accessibility across all of our platforms.

We’re based in the UK and proud to work with emergency services around the world.

If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you take advantage of the latest technology, get in touch with us on our contact page.